I really enjoyed Kynard’s piece and admired her ability to draw out the idiosyncrasies that each of her students brought into her classroom. I think that we can all relate to encountering that formulaic research paper that feels like it was written by a bot. But one focus I was hoping we could discuss is how we, as instructors, may unconsciously perpetuate this formula. As I was reading the piece, I was blown away by the type of writing that Kynard’s students Malcolm and Rhonda were able to produce. At the same time, an odd question popped into my head, which was, “how would I grade something like this?” It sounds so silly, but when I think about it, many of my rubrics are inadvertently holding up those old formulaic structures, with 20% dedicated to structure and 20% dedicated to research/quote integration etc, meanwhile I’m saying things like “try to incorporate your voice!” or “Write about something you’re passionate about!’ I now see how this is somewhat contradictory. So, I think Kynard was correct when she pointed out that these papers are not only easy for students to produce, but also easy for us to grade because they are so familiar. There are also qualities to a formulaic research paper that are easy to “measure,” for lack of a better word. If students begin centering personal styles of writing and individual experiences in their research, it becomes a bit more tricky to craft a rubric that captures all that may be produced. I suppose, then, my question for everyone is, how would you grade assignments like those described by Kynard in her piece? I would love to find more of my students’ voices in their writing. At the same time, I fear that encouraging too much personal experience may cause the research paper to drift into the territory of a narrative assignment. Maybe these are arbitrary boundaries, but I do think there is a way to craft the requirements for a research paper that encourages the type of self-exploration Kynard is advocating for while also keeping research centered…if that makes sense. I’m not sure! This is making me self-reflect on my own understanding of what research is and what the desired goals of research should be. I will add that I recently read all of my 1121 student submissions for the letter/speech discourse community assignment and I did see wisps of this “self as text” happening within these pieces. It was incredibly rewarding and fun to read the students write about a community and issue they feel passionate about, while also integrating some research into their work.
Category Archives: 1101 Unit 2-Genre Research
For Wednesday, Oct 27!
Hi everyone. We will meet on Weds, Oct 27 at 5 pm on Zoom. For this meeting, please do the following:
- Read and annotate “Thinking about Multimodality” on Perusall
- Comment on your teaching of multimodal assignments on THIS PADLET. (instructions once you click the link!)
When we meet, we will take a bit of time to discuss multimodality and Unit 3 of 1101, but we will also discuss final portfolios and grading.
Asynchronous Meeting next week– please complete by Friday, Oct 15
Hi everyone! Here is the work for our next week “meeting.”
- We have two readings up now on Perusall, one by Carmen Kynard (previously of John Jay) and one by Nelson Graff, about teaching research. Please read and annotate both.
- After reading, please post a blog post to this Open Lab site considering (some of) the following questions:
- What does the term “research paper” mean to you?
- How might we expand our definitions of research and “research paper” to more fully contain the curiosity and delight of research and discovery?
- What are some ways you have taught research in the classroom– successfully and unsuccessfully?
- What are some ways you have engaged in your own research– successfully and unsuccessfully?
Please note, you don’t have to answer all of these questions– these are just starting points to guide a post about research!
Grammar and Writing
I have to say I find the amount of resistance to making grammar secondary in college level writing courses odd. As expressed by Dunn, “decades of research” has shown that this is not a valuable use of class time, and even acknowledges that “future studies” will also follow this trend of being ignored. I find it odd because since I started studying composition and rhetoric (which I guess was about ten years ago now when I started undergrad) there has always been a heavy emphasis placed on teaching higher order concerns to students, rather than lower order concerns (which includes most grammar). Yet, even though I have only encountered a few people in the field who still place such a heavy emphasis on grammar, almost all students continue to place it at the top of their writing concerns. Working as the associate coordinator for the writing center at Pace, I have plenty of anecdotal experience to back this up. I would say that, when a student is asked what they want to work on during a tutoring session, there’s about an 80% chance that they will say grammar, and it takes some finagling during the tutoring session to break the students out of this focus. Now, most of these students are in their beginning years of college, either freshman or sophomores, who are just beginning to realize that college english courses are much different from high school english courses. So, this leads me to believe that while this is certainly a pedagogical issue at the college level, it’s going to be almost impossible to solve unless there is a shift at the grade school level as well. I remember having the exact grammar assignments described by Dunn in her article when I was in high school, which were mostly quizzes or tests trying to identify grammatical mistakes or defining these terms. But, I can’t say that I really learned much from them. I think in my own experience, I learned grammar by reading, which is in line with what Dunn was saying about the difference between knowing a definition of something and actually applying that thing in practice. As an instructor, one of the ways I try to deviate from a focus on grammar is by having its contribution to the overall grade of the paper quite low, typically 5%, in the hopes that students will pay more attention to the higher order concerns that are more heavily weighted. I also appreciated Dunn pointing out the arbitrary nature of grammar, with disputes over what is proper even in standardized english, such as the Oxford comma. I think that as instructors, if we can really highlight this point to students, it may help get their attention of grammar, or at least allow them to see how it can be fluid. This approach pairs well with the focus on discourse communities and genres as we can show grammar to be one of the features of writing that changes based on the circumstance you are writing within. In regards to Harris’ piece, I found much of what she was saying to be aligned with writing center tutoring strategies. For example, having students read out loud to listen for grammar, rather than trying to visually recognize it, is common practice in writing centers. I always tell my students that their ears will pick up on things that their brains will “auto-correct” like an iPhone fixing a typo, so they should always read their papers out loud before handing them in. Another point to take into consideration is that there is so much variability among students in regards to their grammatical fluency. So our approach to grammar can sometimes be case by case. I’m sure we are all familiar with receiving a paper that has so many grammatical errors that there is little to no clarity. In this case, I would say grammar does take on a higher priority, but there is only so much we can do given the limited time (especially one on one time) that we have with students. So, with students like this, I always suggest that they make routine trips to the writing center. That way, I can continue providing a fair amount of focus to higher order concerns, while knowing that the student is receiving help on lower order concerns in tutoring sessions.
The Dreaded G Word … Grammar
Though the word “grammar” conjures images of kids gripping #2 pencils as they diagram sentences in sullen and silent classrooms, I actually like thinking about grammar in terms of my own writing. I enjoy deciding between a semicolon or an em-dash; I like reading things out loud to see if I’ve used too many commas (which I almost always have). This, though, is about my own writing and not about teaching.
Teaching grammar is another animal, and one that I don’t like. When I first began teaching at City Tech in 2015, comp classes had an additional 45-minute lab each week and somehow I had the impression that that’s when we were supposed to teach grammar … I can’t remember if the English Department Chair at that time told me that, or if I just guessed. I’d already been teaching creative writing for a decade at that point, but hadn’t taught first year writing, and had never taught grammar. Occasionally I’d come across run-on sentences in the short stories my students turned in, and sometimes I’d point them out, but that was as far as I’d gone grammar-wise.
What I tried to do in the lab portion of the comp classes at City Tech – and I’m so glad those lab portions are gone – was use examples from either student texts or things I found online to gently point out problems and have the students work together to fix them. For example, one exercise I did was project (onto a screen at the front of the class) a paragraph where I’d taken out all the punctuation. Then the students would work in groups of four (my in-person students LOVED doing group work, so I tried to incorporate them into classwork as often as possible) to revise the paragraph with punctuation included; they were also free to change word order or revise the sentences completely if they wished. Then one person from each group would go up to the board and write one of their sentences and the class would discuss the choices they’d made and why.
Honestly, the students seemed to enjoy this. There was usually a bit of good-spirited laughter. It was a team effort, and no one was ever singled out. I didn’t hand out worksheets or define grammatical terms, but rather had them practice them. I made a point to tell them that they know more about grammar than they think they do, simply by reading.
So when I read about the term COIK in Muriel Harris’ piece, I felt a bit relieved. Perhaps I haven’t been as terrible to my students with regard to grammar as I’ve feared these last few weeks. (Also, I love the example of defining physics that Harris uses.)
I think the Dunn article relates a lot to what we’ve been talking about in terms of genre, and I like the point Dunn makes when she says “Every writing project is constrained by previous iterations of that type of writing.” This reminds me of another exercise I’d have students do in-person: Have them write a text to a friend asking what they’re doing that weekend, an email to me asking for an extension for a paper, and a cover letter for a job. Then I’d have them share them with the class – it was just a way to illustrate the different ways we use language in different situations.
All of this is making me think about how much I miss in-person classes! Looking forward to seeing you all later today.
Grammar: Eureka Moments are not Created by Staying within the Lines
One of the first things I casually mention to my students on the first day of class as we go over the syllabus is that I honestly genuinely do not care as much about grammar as I do content. Technicalities bore me to death, and I consider grammar technicalities. I am nowhere near saying that reading a paper with atrocious grammar does not bother me. But the reason for a student’s quality of grammar could be numerous. English may not be one’s first language and they may still be struggling to learn all the intricacies of the English language. They may have not been fortunate enough to go to a school that had quality resources to educate their students: the tools for music, science classes, updated textbooks, extracurricular activities or college readiness programs – never mind grammar, of all things. They may struggle with a learning disorder. But do any of these possible reasons necessarily mean that these students are not capable of holding rich, deeply complex thoughts and ideas within their minds? Certainly not. Can horrible grammar get in the way of understanding a student’s ideas effectively? Yes, and I clarify to them that if it gets in the way of conveying your ideas effectively, or hinders me from understanding your ideas, I will recommend that you go to the Writing Center, or a tutor. I write this on the feedback for their essays. But otherwise, I do not want to hold grammar over my students’ heads in such a way that the fear of a grammar mistake cripples them or hinders them from being able to get their thoughts down onto paper or screen. Students have enough anxiety about writing. Writing is difficult enough of its own. The process of trying to extract something you cannot touch (thoughts, ideas and emotions, which can be haphazardly scattered or vague or blurry) – from your mind, and produce them into enough of a legible, coherent sentence that captures effectively what you hold in your head – is enough of a difficult process on its own. (Was that a long, rambling sentence? It certainly was, but right now I am more concerned about trying to get my ideas down).
I do not want the fear of grammar to begin to censor my students’ thoughts and ideas. Once they have written down whatever they can get down, once we can enrich the writing further or clarify the ideas, then we can work on grammar, or even get past it if that is possible. To me, it is the last step; not really the first.
I think the reason why grammar is associated in society with “laziness/sloth/uneducated” – as Patricia Dunn writes – is more due to a societal association of grammar with law and order, strictness and rigidity of rules. Laws and rules can be important — but not when the richness of thought, humanity, morals, and free-flowing ideas are sacrificed at their expense. There have been many social, political and educational laws and rules throughout history that were morally wrong. It was once a practice to punish Native American children in school if they spoke their own native language over English, even in a casual conversation. Segregation was once the law, slavery was once the law and the rule. (I am going overboard with the examples but I am sure you get the point). So to abide by the principles of only law and strict rules, without leaving the freedom of space to allow for ideas to flow, is I think ignorant and can even be dangerous. So I really do think that the lamenting of the loss of grammar isn’t always accurate, but also negligent. I think upholding grammar as the only standards of education has more to do with an association of grammar to law and order than anything else. And sometimes, we need to break the rules – or at least not glorify them – if it means creating something genuine, true and meaningful. The “eureka!” moments of scientists, artists and writers throughout time did not occur when they always stayed within the lines, but sometimes, outside of them.
My Thoughts on Grammar
As a student, I LOVE grammar. I love thinking about it- I find diagramming sentences one of those eerily calming things to do in my mind. It’s like my version of a rubik’s cube. I went to Catholic school all my life, and those nuns and brothers really held “proper grammar” next to godliness. For me, these lessons just clicked. I was also a native English speaker, an avid reader, and had a mother as an English teacher. I very clearly see that my elementary and secondary education was rooted in a white, religious, middle-class experience.
Therefore, I cannot in good faith use my experience of learning grammar as a measure for my students. I believe that using my narrow definition of what I was taught was “proper grammar” would be a racist, classist, xenophobic way of teaching. Besides, who wants to be that person on Facebook who tries to end an argument by saying “you’re*?” As Dunn stated, “As a recent rhetorical analysis of grammar rants has demonstrated, many such rants are laced with moral judgments about the departure from allegedly proper grammar. In a disturbing, repeating trend, the offending speaker or writer is seen as uneducated and lazy, the latter judgment being connected not too subtly to one of the Seven Deadly Sins (Sloth).” I certainly don’t want to lay a curriculum’s foundation on being a jerk.
That being said, as I teach business writing, grammar is part of many different lessons. As we discuss the proper tone and formality for an external business presentation, or an email to your boss, grammar inevitably comes into play. Dunn’s quote of Elizabeth Wardle really put my teaching into perspective when she says “’There is no such thing as writing in general.’ Every writing project is constrained by previous iterations of that type of writing. Is it a memo, résumé, game manual, business plan, film review?” Since there is no such thing as writing, can there even be such thing as proper grammar in general?
Similar to Dunn’s point above, I try to focus on how writing will need to ebb and flow to accommodate different audiences and different workplaces. My goal is to make flexible writers- and their flexibility will make them strong writers, and good writers. We talk endlessly about industry terminology, similar to Harris’s note on COIK. We address those challenges together and make sure when we are reading student writing that they define any acronyms or industry terms that the other students wouldn’t know. It’s a collective learning- a future lawyer can learn more about a future computer engineer’s world, and the engineer can practice being explicit in different formats, and making their writing clear for a lay audience.
I took a grammar class in college and was super proud of an essay I wrote entitled “I Give a Fuck About an Oxford Comma,” just to come to realize that it truly does not matter. When ESL students are working so hard to move from one language to another, they’re doing four times the work I will ever do to express myself in English. That by itself is cause for celebration and acknowledgment. Instead of saying “this is a run-on sentence” I try to say things like, “this sentence isn’t clear to me. How can we rephrase what you’re trying to say?” so that they can think through how to improve their writing in real time.
While I don’t grade based on grammar, I do have a PowerPoint presentation of grammar memes. It’s a list of 20 common grammar mistakes, and we talk about them as a class, and then work it out in sentences. Many students find it mildly entertaining, and have a moment of clarity with at least one, but I’ve long since abandoned my thought that seeing one meme will change a writing style that is years in the making. Instead, my hope is that by encouraging them to read and assigning them different types of writing throughout the semester, they will naturally experiment with different types of writing and their grammar will develop as well.
When I was in grad school, I developed a healthy obsession with Virginia Woolf. I had taken a class called “Virginia Woolf as a Public Intellectual” at City College and from there descended down a very productive and exciting rabbit hole. Funnily enough, the paper I wrote for that class was on small presses and not even particularly focused on Hogarth, her press with Leonard. Still, from that point on, I bought and read the volumes of her diaries, her letters, obviously all of the fiction, and many biographies. I had a little book that listed all of the Hogarth publications and their editions, and spent a good deal of time imagining her laying type at her dinner table. I bought my own Adana table-top press and took classes at the Center for Book Arts in the garment district. I never wrote another formal paper for school about her, but that class and very charismatic professor got me started on the deep dive, which occasionally flares up to this day.
This same thing has happened around Dostoevsky, P.K. Dick, Russian science fiction, classical rhetoric, the illustrator Virgil Finlay, and others. My own propensity for research, open-ended and for its own sake, is a through-line in my life.
I am guilty of some of things that I disparage in the teaching of research! In the past, I have taught research techniques using a very conservative approach. To be honest, and in my defense, I went to a school without grades for twelve years—not quite Summerhill, but with some counter-cultural propensities—and have at times over-compensated for my own free-form proclivities. I was not taught to write using even theoretical templates and in fact have a naturally anarchic brain, and I did suffer for it for a bit when I first got to college. I had to learn for the first time at seventeen how to be “normal,” and many of the aspects of my style and technique that had been rewarded as a kid became, outside of my college creative writing classes, a liability.
I’m excited to create assignments that incorporate “curiosity and delight,” but fearful for my students who cling to the surety of form and what they’ve known already. With that being said, I think the first step to this is making it clear that their grades won’t suffer if they take risks. That’s really what the engaged students worry about. Once it’s clear that they’ll be rewarded for striking out on their own, and that the process, not just the formal end product, will be emphasized in grading, I think that the ideas mentioned in the essay, and in the 1101 curriculum, can be embraced.
“Getting on the Right Side of It”
My mind has always been a whirling dervish. Whirling everything. Lost thoughts, lost papers, lost keys, lost change, lost Berit. While other students looked so steady and comfortable, I was often trying to figure out if we’d changed rooms, or classes, or books, or why the other students’ subways ran on time and mine didn’t. I just needed a pen, so so often. People who sat next to me, more than once, took to bringing a pen for me, and I can still feel blood flow to my face thinking back on it.
But I had two things working for me. First, I was interested. Second, I had gone to a school that taught outlining and proper essay structure and I’d embraced it. I could wake up at 2AM, suddenly remembering, in my sleep, that a paper was due the next day, and write the paper without fear because I could think of three supporting reasons and find clarifying quotations by rote.
So when the author says all these students who hate this formulaic style of writing are suspect, racist, being rewarded for their rigid adherence to a dogmatic, bot like way of writing, I felt personally injured. Outlining saved me. An outline was an anchor in a sea of whirling words. I wasn’t a robot or a grade digger, I was a just a student who really needed clarity, a system, anything, to keep me steady.
Also, I felt like listing the detractors whose arguments against this revamping of academic writing were weak, self interested or based in systematic racism, was cheap. Why not find the best reasons for not going along with it? Yes, it’s interesting that some “good” students who were used to doing it one way were resistant. I’m not saying the writer should have omitted that information, and I thought the component of racism was fascinating, but I also think there are some valid voices being left out of the discussion and that the absence made me trust the writer less.
I do struggle with this idea of the “self as text”. This professor’s students wrote beautifully. I was blown away by their beauty and relevance. But I am concerned that our world’s seem to get narrower and narrower until people just can’t think about anything but themselves anymore. They won’t make that jump over, beyond the self, into a world that might be interesting to them because the connection requires some time…some nuance.
An aside– I would be pleasantly surprised to get 20 competently written research papers that weren’t plagiarized, no matter how lacking in originality. I’m ever worried that I am sending students out into the workplace — to work as architects, teacher or paralegals, and I don’t want to set them up for humiliation if they don’t know how to do a basic, perhaps boring, research project, perhaps on something that doesn’t interest them. Work is sometimes boring. For example, nurses often need to slog through and summarize excruciatingly boring medical documents for work. Did I give them what they need to do it competently?
On the other hand, the research papers she received were so fascinating that I’m interested in her methods.
Also, her response to her student’s writing was exactly what I’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t quite articulate. She’s clearly having a deep, personal conversation with her students, at a high level, about the world around them, and I often feel like a grading zombie, which is a sure way to kill student curiosity. “Here, you pour out your soul and I’ll stamp it for you.”
Invisible Knowledges – Kynard Response
In the previous semester, I had a student who, for his final paper, could not precisely get at what it was he wanted to actually write about. There was something about his writing that always seemed evasive, inconclusive. At first, I was confused and assumed that he was not comfortable with writing or did not really spend much time on the assignment. But when we sat down for a meeting, the more I prodded to try to get to what might interest him, (as he said he just could not articulate what he wanted to) – he finally said that he felt that his previous education had left him uninterested in education itself, because it limited him from his interests. This was what he had been trying to write about, but felt uncomfortable making that statement. The high school he attended before had no music classes, no art classes. He felt confined, and therefore he felt he was restricted to only science and math and technical fields. He did not want to pursue them, but to him, these were the only acceptable fields. This restriction seemed to resonate in him so much that even as I tried to elicit from him what it was he was really interested in, it was as if he felt ashamed to admit that it was music he was interested in – he was so hesitant about uttering it almost as if it was a bad word, a curse. When he finally said it, and when I finally understood, he expressed a sense of relief – he could finally say it out loud. His inability to articulate his thoughts and interests in education reflected for me the same restrictions he felt imposed upon him before – something that was not a legitimate field to be studied or valued, and therefore not to be expressed, for fear of being shunned, chastised, and set upon another direction.
Even when I finally clarified to him that he could most certainly integrate that into a paper of its own, he did not believe me – he seemed very hesitant to continue with it, or did not think it was possible. Discouraged, he said he would avoid the topic altogether. This reaction made me think of the ways by which educational systems and the ways by which we reify or denigrate certain knowledges, rhetorics, or languages, as Kynard said, “get on the right side of.” The student felt he could not possibly “get on the right side” by discussing what he was actually interested in. This also made me consider how to establish from early on conscious practices and spaces of discussion within the classroom that ensures that students recognize that they do not have to abide by the formulaic regurgitation they have likely been taught. Most of the time, I generally comment on their papers individually if I see this occur, and sometimes possibly bring it up in writing workshop, but never as a conscious acknowledgment that they have been taught this and therefore is harder for them to break out of it. I think establishing this early on, situating the self within the social, political or cultural problems, would set the stage to become more comfortable with doing so even with research.
Personally, even I myself have encountered this denigration of “self as text” with the harsh phrase of “me-search” (in the sociology field). Yet I think this kind of rhetoric itself is privileged, in denying the reality that all research and writing is rooted in some form of positionality (the term we use in the social sciences for this). Yet, recognizing positionality is still a very recent phenomenon in the field. But I think recognizing it, especially for students, can be the start of work grounded within the uniqueness of their own worlds – and oftentimes, we (as a formal educational system) deny students this. And thus students themselves shy away from exhibiting that reality, connecting that reality to their work, because they deem it illegitimate, invalid – because it has always been considered invisible or denigrated in their surroundings. Particularly, educational settings. The role of educational settings defining formal, or canon knowledges, I think is extremely important. And perhaps by recognizing this, discussing this, in class, can open up those conversations as well. I think much of it also has to do with coming to encourage students to explore their own unique realms that only they can write about – through shorter writing assignments, until embracing that uniqueness within research as well.